"Pine Gap" is the commonly used name for a satellite tracking station at 23.799o S, 133.737o E, south-west of the town of Alice Springs in the heart of Australia that is operated by Australia and the U.S. It consists of a large computer complex with eight radomes protecting antennas, and has over 800 employees. It is officially called the Joint Defence Space Research Facility. It is believed to be one of the largest ECHELON ground stations and appears to be physically and operationally similar to the signals intelligence facilities at Buckley Air Force Base, Colorado and Menwith Hill, United Kingdom. U.S. government personnel at Pine Gap are believed to be mostly from the National Security Agency and subordinate service-associated agencies, and the Central Intelligence Agency. While much of its operation is secret, Pine Gap is known to be involved in numerous military satellite operations. As a result, it is occasionally targeted for protests, most recently during the war in Afghanistan.
In 1999, with the Australian Government refusing to give details to an Australian Senate committee on treaties, Intelligence expert Professor Des Ball from the Australian National University was called to give an outline of Pine Gap.
According to Professor Ball, since 9 December 1966 when the Australian and U.S. governments signed the Pine Gap treaty, Pine Gap has grown from the original two antennas to about eighteen in 1999. The number of staff has also increased, from around 400 in the early 1970s to 600 in the early 1990s, and then to an expected 1,000. The biggest expansion occurred after the end of the Cold War.
He described the CIA-run facility as the ground control and processing station for geosynchronous satellites engaged in signals intelligence collection, outlining four categories of signals collected:
Ball described the operational area as containing three sections: Satellite Station Keeping Section, Signals Processing Station and the Signals Analysis Section, from which Australians were barred until 1980. Australians are now officially barred only from the National Cryptographic Room (similarly, Americans are barred from the Australian Cryptographic Room). Each morning the Joint Reconnaissance Schedule Committee meets to determine what the satellites will monitor over the next 24 hours.
With the closing of the Nurrungar base in 1999, an area in Pine Gap was set aside for the U.S. Air Force's control station for infrared satellites that monitor heat emissions from missiles, giving first warning of ballistic missile launches.